2020 marks half a century since the Ford RS brand was launched.
There had been fast Fords before, most notably the 1963 Lotus Cortina, but the arrival of the Rallye Sport brand moved things up a gear.
In the 1960s the German and British divisions of Ford were run separately and when the former decided to introduce a special edition Taunus 15M Rallye Sport it was the start of something big in 1968. However, once Ford of Britain had set up its Advanced Vehicle Operations (AVO) division in 1970, there would be no holding back. AVO would be joined by SVE (Special Vehicle Engineering) in 1980, by which point the RS brand had attained cult status.
Now, 50 years after the RS brand first appeared, its popularity shows no sign of waning. Here’s why Ford RS is special:
Ford Escort RS1600 (1970)
The Escort RS1600 was the first car to come from Ford UK’s new Advanced Vehicle Operations division. Launched in 1970 and fitted with a 120bhp 1599cc engine, these Escorts are now fabulously collectible; just 1139 were made between 1970 and 1974.
The twin-cam BDA powerplant featured a four-valve head and was a development of Ford’s trusty Kent engine. The RS1600 was capable of 0-60mph in 8.9 seconds on the way to a 113mph top speed.
Ford Escort Mexico (1970)
When Hannu Mikkola won the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally, Ford cashed in on the success by launching the Escort Mexico; it never carried RS branding so it’s merely an honorary member of the Rallye Sport club, although it was developed by AVO.
This time power came from the regular 1599cc Kent engine rather than the BDA unit of the RS1600.
Purchase costs were much lower (£1150 compared with the RS1600’s £1447 – about £16,300 (US$22,800) and £20,500 (US$28,700) today), but so was performance; the Mexico could manage 0-60mph in 10.7 seconds and 100mph.
Ford Capri RS2600 (1970)
In 1969 Ford introduced the 125bhp 2.3-litre V6 Capri 2300GT/RS. Production lasted for just a year with sales restricted to Germany only. By 1970 something even more exciting had arrived; the RS2600.
The first European Ford to get fuel injection, the RS2600 also got lightweight panels, a close-ratio gearbox, ventilated disc brakes and alloy wheels. Around 4000 were made, all with left-hand drive.
Ford Capri RS3100 (1973)
Whereas the Capri RS2600 had been a German project (Ford built the Capri in Germany and Britain), the RS3100 was a British product.
Priced at a hefty £2450, Ford built just 200 or so RS3100s of the 500 that were planned; all came with right-hand drive. Few have survived and they’re now hugely sought after.
Ford Escort RS2000 (1973)
Created to offer similar performance to the RS1600 but in a simpler, less highly strung package, the RS2000 was fitted with a 100bhp 1993cc Pinto engine.
Sold for just a year and priced at just £5 less than the RS1600, a healthy 5334 examples were made. The RS2000 topped out at 108mph and could do 0-60mph in 9.0 seconds.
Ford Escort RS1800 (1975)
When the Escort Mk2 arrived in 1975, Ford came up with a plan. It would build three RS derivatives, with the RS1800 focused on motorsport rather than road use.
Built to order only, the BDA-engined RS1800 featured an 1835cc powerplant that drove the rear wheels via a four-speed close-ratio gearbox. With 115bhp on tap the RS1800 covered the 0-60mph sprint in 9.0 seconds and topped out at 111mph.
Ford Escort RS Mexico (1976)
The most accessible of the sporty Escort Mk2 models was the RS Mexico; unlike its predecessor, the Mk2 Escort Mexico was a bona fide RS model.
This time there was a 1593cc Pinto engine, rated at 95bhp to give 0-60mph in 11.1 seconds and a 106mph top speed.
Ford Escort RS2000 (1976)
A year after the Escort Mk2 made its debut, the RS2000 arrived. This was to be the more prestigious (and more profitable) road-biased Escort RS.
With its distinctive shovel nose, the RS2000 looked substantially different from its more mainstream siblings, with power supplied by a 1993cc Pinto four-pot. With 110bhp on tap the RS2000 was capable of 0-60mph in 8.6 seconds and 109mph.
Ford Escort RS1700T (1980)
When Ford decided to compete in Group B rallying it dreamed up this turbocharged rear-wheel drive Escort based on its all-new Mk3 Escort.
The Cosworth-developed powerplant put out a fruity 300bhp but there were all sorts of reliability problems and before Ford managed to fix them, four-wheel drive had become an essential part of the Group B car’s formula.
The RS1700T was ditched in favour of an all-new car that would arrive in 1984 – the RS200.
Ford Capri RS 2.8 Turbo (1981)
Developed by Zakspeed in Germany, this bodykitted Capri featured a turbocharged 2.8-litre carburetted V6 rated at 188bhp. Just 155 were made, all sold through German Ford RS dealers.
They were all left-hand drive and fitted with RS-branded seats and steering wheel – plus an array of RS suspension and drivetrain parts.
Ford Escort RS1600i (1982)
Although it was a bit more powerful than the XR3i (115bhp vs 105bhp), the RS1600i was no faster and cost significantly more, so unsurprisingly it didn’t sell all that well; just 8659 were made.
That didn’t really matter as the RS1600i was a homologation special created for Group A racing, so only 5000 needed to be made anyway. The RS1600i was given away by its extra driving lights, decals and spoilers while the front suspension was tweaked.
Ford RS200 (1984)
Having given up on the RS1700T, Ford created a car specifically for Group B rallying – although as a homologation special at least 200 examples would have to be built, including road-going editions.
The result was the RS200, with a turbocharged 1.8-litre BDT engine that sent its 250bhp to all four wheels. In competition form there was 450bhp available. But soon after the RS200 arrived the Group B series was scrapped.
Ford Escort RS Turbo (1984)
A product of Ford’s Special Vehicle Engineering (SVE) division rather than AVO, the Escort RS Turbo was based on the RS1600i and came only as an all-white car complete with butch-looking bodykit.
There was a Ferguson limited-slip diff to tame the 132 rampaging horses which gave the car a 125mph top speed.
Ford Sierra RS Cosworth (1986)
Ford had got a taste for turbocharging which is why from now on most RS models would have forced induction. Things got serious with the launch of the Cosworth-developed Sierra, with its 1993cc YB Pinto-based engine.
Boosted to give 204bhp, the Cossie was capable of 0-60mph in just 6.2 seconds on its way to a 145mph top speed.
Ford Escort RS Turbo (1986)
When the Escort Mk3 was facelifted to become the Mk4, the RS Turbo became a standard model. As a result it was available in an array of colours and it looked less extreme while also offering greater refinement thanks to raised gearing.
The performance was much the same as before, with the 0-60mph dash now taking 8.3 seconds (previously 8.1).
Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth (1987)
After little more than a year, production of the regular Cosworth-fettled Sierra came to an end so Ford introduced a limited run of 500 cars with a 224bhp engine.
A bigger turbo and intercooler boosted power and while these RS500 editions aren’t any quicker than the regular Sierra RS Cosworth, they fetch a massive premium.
One sold at auction in 2017 for £122,400 (around US$160,000 at the time).
Ford Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth (1988)
Until now, if you wanted a Cosworth-tuned Sierra you had to buy a three-door hatch with a massive rear spoiler. But in 1988 Ford unleashed a four-door saloon with much more discreet looks and the same 204bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre engine as the original Cossie.
It wasn’t quite as fast at the top end (now 142mph) but it was quicker to 60mph; it could now get there in just 5.8 seconds.
Ford Fiesta RS Turbo (1990)
Using the same engine as the Escort RS Turbo, but with a smaller turbocharger, the Fiesta RS Turbo packed a 133bhp punch to give 129mph and 0-60mph in 7.9 seconds.
It was the fastest Fiesta Ford had yet offered, but production ended after just two years, with the RS1800 tacking over where the RS Turbo left off.
Ford Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth 4x4 (1990)
When the Sierra was introduced in 1982, Ford introduced its first ever production four-wheel drive car: the V6-powered Sierra XR4x4.
In 1990 a 220bhp Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth 4x4 was introduced to sell alongside the XR4x4. It used the same mechanicals as the three-door Cossie and a shortened version of this car’s floorpan was used for the Escort RS Cosworth.
Ford Escort RS2000 (1991)
In 1991 Ford dusted off its RS2000 moniker for the Escort Mk5.
While the fifth-generation Escort had been poorly received in 1990, the RS2000 tried to put things right with an all-new 150bhp 16-valve twin-cam engine that offered plenty of torque and a 131mph top speed; 0-60mph came up in 8.3 seconds.
Ford Escort RS Cosworth (1992)
Six years after the first Cosworth-tuned Sierras were delivered to their expectant owners, Ford was still using the same basic mechanicals with the 227bhp Escort RS Cosworth.
Another homologation special, 5000 had to be built when Ford commissioned Karmann to switch on the taps, but FISA cut this threshold to just 2500 soon after production started.
It made little difference though; more than 7000 were made by the time production wound up in 1996. One virtually untouched example from 1996 sold for £91,125 (US$127,500) at auction in 2017.
Ford Fiesta RS1800 (1992)
Created to replace the RS Turbo, the RS1800 featured a 128bhp naturally aspirated engine that provided much the same performance (127mph and 8.1 seconds for the 0-60mph sprint).
Looking much like its predecessor, the RS1800 did without bonnet louvres and it also featured five-spoke alloys in place of the previous three-spoke items.
Ford Escort RS2000 4x4 (1993)
Although the Escort Mk5 RS2000 was launched in 1991, it would be another two years before a four-wheel drive edition was shown – and even then it wouldn’t go on sale until 1994.
Never marketed very much, this was a hidden gem in the Ford range as it was a brilliant year-round cross-country hot hatch. It wasn’t quite as quick as the front-wheel drive edition though; it topped out at 128mph with 0-60mph taking 9.4 seconds.
Ford Focus RS (2002)
Once the RS2000 and RS Cosworth editions of the Escort had gone out of production it would be another six years before the RS badge returned to showrooms.
Ford teased us in the meantime though, with a Focus RS concept shown at the 1998 Geneva motor show; a production version was revealed three years later.
It was worth the wait though; the 212bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre Duratec engine could whisk the Focus RS to 60mph in just 6.3 seconds and on to a top speed of 143mph.
Ford Focus RS (2009)
The original Focus RS was made for just a year and with the last cars being built in 2003 it seemed for a while that Ford has lost interest in the RS brand.
But in 2009 we got an all-new Focus RS, based on the second-generation car and with eye-popping looks. This time the turbocharged 2522cc five-cylinder engine kicked out 296bhp, with the car capable of 163mph and 0-62mph in six seconds – all in a 25 grand front-wheel drive family hatch.
Ford Focus RS500 (2010)
Seemingly inspired by the Sierra RS Cosworth, Ford offered 500 examples of the run-out Focus RS, now with 345bhp.
Unsurprisingly the cars sold out in double-quick time, each one featuring matt black paint and 19-inch alloy wheels.
Ford Focus RS Mountune (2010)
Just 101 right-hand drive Focus RS500s were built, but all was not lost for those who were too slow off the mark to buy one.
That’s because Ford teamed up with tuning company Mountune to offer an officially recognised upgrade for the regular Focus RS, which boosted power to the same 345bhp as the RS500 – and all for just £1995.
Ford Focus RS (2016)
You have to wonder where it will all end; the Focus Mk2 offered ludicrous levels of performance, but Ford kept on turning up the wick with this third iteration.
Instead of the 90bhp available in the earliset of RS models, this 2.3-litre Ecoboost engine could generate 345bhp which was sent to all four wheels – enough to give a 0-62mph time of just 4.5 seconds.
In the summer of 2016, it became available in the United States, the first RS model to be sold there – better late than never. And if you want one, starting price US$42,000, be quick – this RS will soon cease production.
Ford Focus RS Mountune (2016)
Just in case 345bhp in a small family hatch wasn’t enough, Mountune was once again on hand to pep things up a bit with its 370bhp Focus RS.
Again this was a factory-sanctioned upgrade which kept the warranty intact. This was a UK-market product priced at £899 and while power was increased by 30bhp (torque also jumped from 346lb ft to 376lb ft), the claimed performance figures remained the same: a 165mph top speed and a 0-62mph time of 4.5 seconds.
Ford Focus RS Mk4
Ford is planning an even faster, more powerful and more efficient Focus RS for 2020 or 2021 and will use the new mega-hatch to showcase a suite of 48-volt mild-hybrid technologies the company is introducing across its global medium and large-car ranges. PICTURE: Autocar artist impression
With the combination of its combustion and electric motors, the car’s power output is expected to exceed 400bhp, rivalling models like the 415bhp offered by the latest Mercedes-AMG A45 S. It will be a welcome return to the market for RS.